Sri Lanka Cricket Run Out … and run over by Hambantota

Frederica Jansz, in the Sunday Leader, 19 June 2011

Sri Lanka Cricket also known formerly as the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka is in a financial melt down due to political interference, large scale corruption and short-sighted management policies. Cricket  has become a passion for almost every Sri Lankan.  Sadly the gentlemen’s game has been swamped by high finance, leading to persons without the requisite mental and moral make up wanting to be a part of it for upward social mobility and / or financial gain.
The morass that Sri Lanka Cricket is in today has a direct relationship to the recently concluded World Cup 2011, hosted in the sub continent. The 1996 World Cup where Sri Lanka emerged champions was also hosted in the sub continent. Therefore, the Sri Lankan people were expecting a repeat performance which by no mean measure was helped by a nationalistic hype that was being marketed by a government riding high, having defeated the LTTE.Added to this was the strong push to veer all development to Hambantota that saw Sri Lanka Cricket being frog-marched to build an International Cricket Stadium to host some of the World Cup matches. There was a time that the International Cricket Council (ICC) was concerned whether the Mahinda Rajapaksa stadium would be dressed up in time for the matches. As is the case when an extra effort is to be made to stick to deadlines, the costs escalated.
  Let us go back in time and reflect on the preparations by the Sub Continent Cricket Boards to host the most recent World Cup. There is no gain saying that India would be the lead partner and thus would be in the driving seat where all the major decisions were made. Pakistan with all her internal problems became a mere spectator and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had to fill in the blanks.
  Sri Lanka was slotted in to host eight games. The matches were to be played at Kettarama, Pallekele and the newly constructed Sooriyawewa Stadium. All the games were to be under lights as stipulated by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Top officials speaking on conditions of anonymity recounted that the Dambulla Stadium had lights but was not considered due to the poor lighting system in place. The Kettarama and Pallekele Stadium had to be refurbished to fall in line with ICC requirements. Sooriyawewa had to be built as a new venue – solely on the basis to fit a political agenda – that of the Rajapaksa family.
Each stadium had to have a capacity to seat around 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. This was a big undertaking by any standards. That Sri Lanka Cricket had a deficit of Rs. 360 million rupees in 2009 becomes relevant when considering a mammoth undertaking to build a new stadium and refurbish two others. (See box interview with Nishantha Ranatunge) The final cost of the Stadiums (Kettarama, Pallekele and Sooriyawewa ) finally exceeded Rs. 7 billion.  By how much exactly even Sri Lanka Cricket is unable to say with any certainty at present.
Secretary of the Interim Committee Nishantha Ranatunge together with Treasurer  Sujeewa Rajapaksa and the Acting CEO Ajith Jayasekera met with this columnist but were unable to give exact figures.
  The Dambulla Stadium built with much fanfare during Thilanga Sumathipala’s tenure had poor lighting they said and therefore was not considered. This Stadium which is fitted with 8 masts consisting of only 20 lights each was considered inadequate. Naturally it came in for criticism by many an international team who played there. Abacus, India which handled the lighting system at Dambulla, is owned by former Indian skipper Kapil Dev while Aravinda de Silva was said to be the local counterpart.
  The building of the new stadium at Sooriyawewa and all other major infra structure works were handled by contractors appointed by the government and not by Sri Lanka Cricket.
According to Nishantha Ranatunge the contract to build Sooriyawewa went to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. In an interview with this newspaper he claimed he did not yet have final figures which would detail how much exactly it cost to build the Sooriyawewa stadium.
  Our investigation however found the initial estimate stood at Rs. 2.4 billion. Later costs escalated and the total cost for Sooriyawewa stood at over Rs. 4 billion. The refurbishment of both Pallekele and Kettarama were handled by the State Engineering Company.  Initial estimates to renovate Kettarama stood at Rs. 1.3 billion and Rs. 900 million to rebuild Pallakele.
As stated earlier on in this column Sri Lanka Cricket was not just coerced – but forced by Mahinda Rajapaksa to build the stadium at Sooriyawewa.  Nishantha Ranatunge on the record vehemently denied this fact.
  The truth however is that SLC had budgeted one billion rupees as their share for  Sooriyawewa (though it was going to cost much more), Rs. 1.3 billion for Kettarama and Rs 900 million for Pallekele. That Sri Lanka Cricket is now left to cough out the entire cost for the Sooriyawewa Stadium is one of the reasons for the financial crunch.  A rough estimate of the costs to be incurred for the three stadiums amount to Rs. 7.2 billion.
  Dues towards the refurbishment of Pallekele and Kettarama have been settled upto around 90 % by Sri Lanka Cricket. The final figures pertaining to Sooriyawewa is not known as yet and contractors have to be settled in full. The sole bids, called by SLC was for lighting and seating of the stadiums.  A technical evaluation was done resulting in Rs. 200 million being spent for lighting at these two stadiums. Hayleys handled the lighting, Dimos – the masts, with the seating going to Woodman Lanka, Metropolitan Agencies and an Australian firm. The sprinkler systems were laid by Jinasena Group. The lighting was found to be adequate with over 200 lux brightness in the middle. Five masts consisting of 128 lights each at Kettarama is the jewel in the crown. These stadiums are maintained by SLC and carries a maintenance bill of Rs 1.5 million each, a month.
  The ICC guaranteed Sri Lanka Cricket US $ 750,000.00 for hosting each of the eight games and an additional US $ 150,000.00 for running each match. This amounted to a total of US $ 7.2 million, approximately Rs 792,000,000.00. ( @ Rs 110/=  per 1 USD). No need here to be an Einstein to imagine why SLC is in the predicament it is in right now. The ICC is yet to settle US $ 20 million to Sri Lanka Cricket and it is against this that they have sought a loan to meet the running costs of the SLC which would naturally be on a lien to the Bank of Ceylon. But they are hampered with debts left over by previous regimes too.
  In 2007, during the Presidency of Jayantha Dharmadasa a loan of US $ 3 million was taken from the ICC and this was to be deducted from the guarantee fee of the T20 tournament in 2009 but was rescheduled due to cash flow deficiencies and will now be taken off the World Cup dues. Judging by past practices SLC is certain to leave such legacy to elected officials to grapple with, if and when the members and affiliates do get an opportunity to elect their own officials to run cricket.
   Sri Lanka Cricket has a staff strength of 259 on board. 56 managerial staff, 93 executives, 33 clerical staff and 77 minor employees costing Rs. 21 million a month. The World Cup however resulted in the ICC insisting on selected staff on contract to be paid by them. These though temporary carried handsome salaries by Sri Lankan standards. Tournament Director, Suraj Dandeniya carried a tab of US $ 5000.00 per month, Operations Director, Kapila Dandeniya US $ 3000.00 per month, Director Logistics, Sriyan Samararatne US $ 2000/- the Financial Controller Ruwan Gallege USD 2,500/ and Media Director Mahes Senanayake USD 2,500/- per month. There were other positions amounting to about 20 other persons.
These positions were not advertised and when this columnist asked Nishantha Ranatunge as to how they were filled, he laughed, embarrassed, responding, “That I honestly don’t know how to answer.”  Suraj and Kapila Dandeniya being nephews of Cricket Boss D.S. de Silva is no secret. Whether these positions required a minimum qualification or experience is not known. Sriyan Samararatne having handled Logistics in the Air Force seems to be the exception. Rumour was that Sidath Wettimuny and S. Skandakumar were approached to fill some of these positions but they had declined.
  The World Cup is over. Sri Lanka made it into the finals and was defeated by India. The Captain, Vice Captain and the Selection Committee resigned their positions. The Coach didn’t seek renewal of his contract. And the Board has been left with near empty coffers.
If readers recall the sale of World Cup tickets including the sale of complimentary tickets led to a big stink. Now it follows that two hard disks of two computers at SLC Headquarters have been pilfered. Inside job, they believe. That is stating the obvious. SLC officials say that soft copies of the data is in their possession. One hard disk contained details of world cup ticket bookings and the other audit queries. The soft copies are said to be in the custody of Ruwan Gallage but don’t hold your breath, they may vanish too. It appears that someone is determined to draw a red herring with the theft of the computer hard disks. Whether the ticket sales and other audit queries would now be a thing of the past will unfold in the coming days if not weeks. Many an insider feels that the suspects are highups recruited by the ICC and the real reason behind the loss lies elsewhere.
Sri Lanka Cricket as well as other sports have been placed under interim committees appointed by the Minister of Sports under provisions of the Sports Law of Sri Lanka. The spirit of the Sports Law is to regulate and supervise that justice is done to those aspiring to represent the nation besides laying guidelines to those who hold office in national bodies. Like the Police Department, Forces, Judiciary, Government Service and other arms, Sports too have come under the control of the politician. Whilst the politicians take control of national bodies their henchmen are appointed to Interim and other committees to do their bidding. Cricket is more than a sport for Sri Lankans and is doomed to slide downwards in keeping pace with the other arms of society which politicians have taken control of.


Hambantota 2018 – A Multi-Billion Rupees Gamble

Dinouk Columbage, Sunday Leader, 19 June 2011

Hambantota prepares to rival the cost ofDelhi’s hundred billion Indian rupee (INR. 100,000,000,000) Commonwealth Games with its own two hundred and sixty five billion (Rs. 265,000,000,000) rupee games in 2018. The Games will be the catalyst for the development of Hambantota according to Nalin Attygalle. The two hundred and sixty five billion rupees will see a hundred billion rupees spent on the construction of the sports venues and the athletes’ village. A further sixty five billion rupees will be spent on operating and capital expenditures. These are specific to running the 2018 Commonwealth Games, such as retaining staff, medical personal, security, transport, promotion of the event and catering. The bid document, which was presented to the Commonwealth Games Federation in May, states that forty billion rupees will be spent on hotels and other necessary infrastructure developments.
  Sixty billion rupees will be invested in a university, and a business and IT park. This does not have any real connection to the games, but rather at promoting foreign investment in the country. Is this colossal amount going to reap any benefits for a country emerging from a thirty year war? Nalin Attygalle, the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Games Hambantota 2018, said that the estimated 2.6 million tourists for 2016 is a sign that tourism will outweigh the costs spent on the games. He further explained that the games will be a doorway for tourists to witness what Sri Lanka has to offer.
  Where can Sri Lanka find the funds for a venture that is often dubbed a gamble? Attygalle explained that once the bid is a success,a combination of funding from both the government and private sector will ensure these astronomical costs are met. This was a similar approach adopted by India when they hosted the Delhi games. Why were their games rife with overspending and corruption? “The Indians made the mistake of not openly presenting the progress of the construction and preparation of the games to the media. We will ensure that the Sri Lankan media are continually updated on the status,” said Attygalle. He stressed that all funding received for the project will be accounted for and its records made public.
Sri Lanka co-hosting of the World Cup earlier in the year was supposed to be a preview of the country’s ability to accommodate a world class sporting event. Sri Lanka Cricket is now bankrupt with the cost of the construction for only three stadiums reaching seven billion rupees. The grave mismanagement of funds begs the question how can the Hambantota 2018 team ensure this is not repeated? Nalin Attygalle stated he could not comment on the management of Sri Lanka Cricket, but assured that all expenses associated with the games will be clearly explained. Asked about how the tenders for the construction for the stadiums will be handled, he replied that when the time is right they will be advertised. ‘At this point we are focussing on winning the bid; we have already had requests from both domestic and international companies. Once the bid is a success we will turn our attention to issuing the construction contracts.’
   Attygalle explained that the games are going to be the catalyst for the development of Hambantota into a major city. He drew attention to Malaysia’s economy in 1991 when they presented the bid for the Commonwealth Games and Sri Lanka’s current economy. ‘Governor Cabraal explained that we are going to model ourselves on Malaysia when approaching development. He explained that Malaysia’s successful hosting of the 1991 games sparked economic prosperity in the country; this is a trend that Sri Lanka is looking to adopt,’ claimed Attygalle .
  The stadiums will not be the only tourist attractions in Hambantota. The city plans on having, alongside the infamous Hambantota port, an eighteen-hole golf course, a university and a business and IT park which will attract foreign students. Attygalle stated that the games will be an opportunity to present the different avenues of development Sri Lanka is looking to pursue. ‘The world’s eyes will be on Sri Lanka, we must show that we are a tourist destination for the future,’ he said.
Is Hambantota prepared to host such a large event? Attygalle explained that by 2018 the southern town will be a fully developed city. Asked whether they had factored in the costs of the development of Hambantota in their original estimates, he said no, explaining that various ministerial bodies would be taking up those tasks. Such development will see the costs sky rocket, in seven years’ time the Sri Lankan government would have to have turned a fairly under-developed region into a thriving city. When asked if this was a realistic scenario, Attygalle did not hesitate in saying yes.
  Olympic parks and Commonwealth parks have often been considered to be obsolete after the event. Attygalle said to ensure this was not repeated in Hambantota the stadiums will be built for a smaller capacity. ‘The Commonwealth Games Federation have minimum requirements for the stadiums; we have put forth the plan to build the stadiums to meet these minimum requirements.’ He further added that this would ensure that regional games would be attracted to such stadiums.
The Delhi Commonwealth Games were plagued by delays in completion of the stadiums and in some cases unsafe constructions. Sri Lanka Cricket also struggled to complete the stadiums on time; will Hambantota 2018 be able to complete the stadiums on time and up to the required standards? Attygalle said that the organisers of Delhi delayed construction for two and a half years after winning the bid, ‘the rushed nature of their construction meant mistakes were made,’ he added. The target for completion, according to the Chief Executive Officer, is 2016 which will be in time for the South Asian Games. ‘This event will be a comprehensive test, leaving us two years to fix any shortcomings,’ he explained.
Hambantota 2018 will be Sri Lanka’s first attempt at constructing many of the sporting venues. Doubts have emerged over whether Sri Lanka will be capable of constructing such facilities. Attygalle looked to quell these doubts by assuring the public that both international sporting bodies and the Commonwealth Games Federation will be playing an active role in the construction. ‘Representatives from both the CGF and the different sporting bodies will be on site during the construction,’ he explained.
The Sunday Leader took to the streets to ask the people what they felt about the proposed Commonwealth Games. Sugath Pathirana, a show owner, explained that hosting or not hosting the games will make no difference to his life. He explained that, ‘the government will be spending millions of rupees which can be spent on bettering our daily lives.’ Asked if he would attend the games, he replied he would not, asserting he cannot close his business and travel to the south to watch a sporting event.
Daniel Michaels, a university student, said that he is an ardent follower of sports but is not too excited about the prospect of the games. He said that he could not see himself travelling to Hambantota to watch the games. When Attygalle was asked about the less than enthusiastic reception to the games he said that there would be a vigorous advertising campaign to promote the games once the bid is successful. He disregarded fears that the games would not attract crowds to fill the stadiums.
With the final vote due to take place in November, questions are emerging over whether Sri Lanka can accommodate the financial burden the games will exert, in the event she does win the bid.

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